Upon conceding failure with that troubleshooting, we replaced that Dometic 2351 with a new Dometic 2351 and you can read about those additional adventures here.
Twenty months after we installed the new Dometic 2351, it again went on the fritz.
|We followed procedures specified in Dometic's own Diagnostic Service Manual (PDF) to try to diagnose this second break-down. That included bypassing the thermostat in two different ways (my husband's DIY hot-wired resistors are visible near photo center above) to cause the fridge to run "full blast", to see if it would get colder. Which it did not.|
Why did our second Dometic fail? An ominous quote from the Diagnostic Service Manual reads, “A refer (sic) that chases the out-side (sic) temperature is improperly vented or has a weak cooling unit.” (page 24). We were seeing the temperature chase ambient, but we knew that there was nothing wrong with our venting. So how could the cooling unit have suddenly become "weak"? There are various speculations on the internet, including an intriguing possibility expressed in this forum thread, which is that one of the gas components, namely hydrogen, leaks out preferentially from the welds in the cooling unit, given that it's THE smallest molecule in existence.
|Ya don't say. Not very good news for absorption fridge owners, obviously.|
To make a long story short, I researched the available replacement possibilities in the realm of two-way rather than three-way fridges. A well-known RV upfitter had recommended that I consider either the marine fridges of brand name Vitrifrigo or Isotherm, so those are the ones I stuck to. Rumor has it that Norcold is experiencing major failure rates right now (one source claiming 80% returns!!! Plus they had major recalls even before these latest reported problems, so I did not even consider that brand.)
|Here's a screenshot of my comparison spreadsheet.|
I had a lot of trouble verifying the specs of these fridges, though. Dimensional information on the internet was limited and often contradictory. Customer service was no help. Vitrifrigo itself is an Italian company which appears to have very poor representation here in America. No retailer carried either of the models I was evaluating, so I could not view them in a brick-and-mortar to confirm that internet thumbnails were showing the actual product I was looking for.
|Experiences like this were common. Do you ever visit a webpage and have these annoying "Can I help you?" pop-ups appear only to discover that there's nobody on the other end? It's just a useless bot.|
|If anyone needs to know where and how to buy marine parts in the greater Houston area, email me. Sometimes I don't list vendor names because of "law of unintended consequences" type outcomes. But I'd be glad to share stories.|
|This is generally regarded as a fairly knowledgeable source, IF their site happens to be up and running while you are searching.|
|Literally. It came home in our Interstate, which I was using as my daily driver until we got this refrigerator issue under control. Here you can see the original cabinet opening where the cursed Dometic had been removed.|
I'll talk about adjusting the width first, then the cabinet height. But because this became an iterative process for us, with a couple of mid-project do-overs, some of the photos below do not show full continuity.
|The first task was caulk removal. The second task was to remove face trim pieces one at a time.|
|That meant deleting all of the trim on the right side, where it was deeper and more layered.|
|You can see the caulk smear and the notch in the base plate where it had fit. The compound piece itself is visible at photo lower right.|
Or, even if drips don't occur, wood should never be left raw in a camper van, especially in our subtropical climate. That's just asking for trouble.
|Sherwin Williams "Iron Ore". Note that it's an oil-based enamel.|
|It's a pretty good match to the existing countertops.|
|We had to cut that right trim flush... and of course I sealed the raw plywood edges with oil-based enamel...|
|...and then we added an entirely new bottom plate, and a down-rod at left (solid oak).|
|If we were forced to push the fridge all the way to the right to avoid the wire bundles, so be it. But why waste the resulting space on the left?|
|We also replaced the vinyl flaps that Airstream had installed around the former fridge. But let me not get ahead of myself...|
|Because you're an Airstream Interstate - THAT'S WHY!!|
Jackie Chan, one of my all-time favorites, whose work ethic resonates so deeply with my immigrant heart.
|Difficult because we had to move the microwave shelf up about a half an inch to accommodate the Vitrifrigo mounting frame. But the microwave shelf was not a simple shelf...|
|In this case, it was an oscillating saw, with various blades. The piece of plywood beneath it was used as the spacer. The cylinder in the foreground is the nozzle of the Shop Vac.|
|Because of the way this cabinetry was put together, we had to surgically excise a nominal half inch so that we could raise up that microwave shelf enough for the Vitrifrigo face frame to achieve clearance.|
|See how that works? Isn't that cool.|
|That's one of my favorite emojis. Especially this time of year.|
|You can also see a bunch of electrical running all through there. The AC plug is for the microwave. Obviously you need to be very careful when cutting in an area like this. And observe electrical lock-out tag-out protocols.|
As a rule, I never leave any raw wood edge exposed in the Interstate. It's just asking for trouble. One spill of liquid or leak of water, and you've got swollen plywood and ruined cabinetry.
|This is a small piece of that same plywood that I left out in the rain last week for illustrative purposes.|
|Here's a view of the shelf re-inserted, and the spacer fitted beneath it. Later, those two vertical trim pieces had to be removed (what did I say about photo continuity?).|
|Here's the corresponding top view of the microwave shelf, repositioned. The holes in the sides of the shelf are the screw holes for anchoring the microwave.|
|My Mapsco Texas Road Atlas. No other map is as thorough and accurate - no paper maps, no GPS database. Only this one will serve for our kinds of backwoods travels. And now it wedges in there tightly enough so that it will not go flying onto the floor when the rig is in motion.|
Just before we loaded in the fridge, we covered its rear refrigerant line with the same plastic wire conduit we'd used for the interior DC wire bundle. All that refrigerant line had for protection was the usual layer of spongy foam which, in this tight environment, didn't seem sufficient (as evidenced by the fact that we'd already nicked the foam during fridge fitting trials).
And speaking again of space, finding 0.7 planar cubic feet is also golden. At first my husband was not convinced that storing a Rumpl next to the fridge was such a good idea. Then he actually heard the Vitrifrigo compressor with his own ears, the Danfoss compressor that is widely rumored to be silent.
|Silent my sweet buttocks! That's the decibel reading in front of the cabinet slot, without the Rumpl blanket in place.|
|This is actually a larger fridge than the Dometic 2351, but because we recessed it into the cabinetry, the door doesn't come anywhere near to hitting the opposite cabinetry. This is an issue with some Dometic installations in Airstream Class Bs, as this forum thread attests.|
|There she is - Miss Italy this time, rather than Miss America.|
|Much better. The Rumpl does result in a significant noise reduction. Plus I get the blanket storage. How rad is that, to use #vanlife-speak?|
Edit, same-day: The fridge immediately dropped into the 30's when I turned down the thermostat. And this despite the side of the van being too hot to touch with the fingers in our blazing heat.
Second Edit: Here's what our BMS (Electrodacus) looked like overnight as it was cycling. My husband surmises that the compressor ran about one third of the time. Overnight low temps in our area were probably around 75 degrees (we're located in the subtropics). I think you can see the effect of the "soft start" multi-speed compressor here (all those spikey narrow peaks).
Here is the Cruisers Forum thread that corresponds to this blog post BTW. And here is the Air Forums thread that includes discussion of some of the same content.
|I shouldn't complain but I find it hard not to. On the bright side, we need demanding conditions in which to properly test a new refrigerator. Well, we sure as hell have them.|